Videogames Using the Power of Fans to Get a Kick Start

Published on May 21, 2012
by Tricia Duryee

Videogames are fast becoming one of the most popular categories that are able to attract start-up capital from everyday people.

SFC / Shutterstock

With the rise of so-called “crowdfunding,” game makers are finding fans online who are willing to pledge a few bucks toward a game they’d like to see produced.

The primary site where these connections are being made is Kickstarter, a three-year old company. Since Kickstarter got off the ground, the games category has garnered $29 million in pledges, according to the New York Times. Other popular categories include film/video, music and design.

Further, it was reported that 854 game developers successfully reached their fundraising goals, raising an average of $29,409 apiece.

Most impressively, three game companies have raised more than $1.5 million each since the beginning of this year: Double Fine raised $3.3 million from 87,000 backers; Wasteland 2 raised $2.9 million; and Shadowrun Returns secured $1.8 million.

Another site, Gambitious, which will be exclusively dedicated to helping game companies raise money, is preparing to launch on June 5 in Los Angeles as part of E3, the industry’s big annual conference.

The shift to nontraditional fundraising is now even catching the eye of megapublishers like Electronic Arts. Last week, EA said developers who crowdsourced funding will be able to sell their games on Origin at no cost for three months.

Origin is the company’s online game store, which allows users to download PC games electronically and counts up to 12 million users worldwide.

“The public support for crowdfunding creative game ideas coming from small developers today is nothing short of phenomenal,” said David DeMartini, EA’s SVP of Origin, in a release. “It’s also incredibly healthy for the gaming industry. Gamers around the world deserve a chance to play every great new game.”

EA doesn’t disclose how much it charges because it says fees can vary, but through this program, developers will now receive 100 percent of sales during the 90-day window plus any pre-sales that are generated before the title officially launches, a spokesman confirmed.

It’s unclear whether crowdfunding is a fad and consumers will tire of it quickly, and to be clear, not every company that requests money is able to get it.

But it pairs nicely with a broader trend in the industry that AllThingsD’s Eric Johnson wrote about last week. He explained that game developers are increasingly finding it advantageous to stay small, rejecting the notion that productions need big budgets in order to create blockbusters.

The evolution has been aided by the rise of three new distribution platforms, Apple’s App Store, Facebook and Valve’s Steam Store (and to a lesser extent, EA’s Origin, which is catching up). With these digital platforms, developers can reach customers without having to package up their software and sell it at retail, saving thousands of dollars.

With the crowdfunding phenomenon completely under way, Videogame Analyst and Consultant Scott Steinberg saw the opportunity to write an e-book on the subject called “Crowdfunding Your Business: A How-To Guide.” In the recently released book, he argues that crowdfunding helps developers identify projects that consumers are willing to pay for, before they’ve wasted the money and time on developing them.

He writes that by “requesting feedback or recruiting help from public donors via open calls for assistance — you can gauge demand for and create bankable products from day one.”

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